October is National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, and October 15 is National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. Recently, Chrissy Tiegen and John Legend have been in the news for being candid about the loss of their son, Jack.
Miscarriage and stillbirth are more common than people think, and part of that is because it’s so rarely talked about. We hide our grief, for fear of making people uncomfortable, out of shame, out of guilt, or any myriad of reasons. It’s estimated that between 20% and 30% of all pregnancies end in miscarriage. When you consider the biological factors it takes to get pregnant, that’s a staggering number of babies lost, and brokenhearted parents.
Before I continue any further, do not hijack this post and start talking about abortion, pro-choice, pro-life, etc. That is another conversation entirely, and has nothing to do with this. You insult grieving mothers when you detract the focus from this moment.
As it happens, I fall into the 25% of pregnancies that fail. Below is my story.
On June 5, 2020, I had a suspicion I might be pregnant. I took a home preganancy test, and the word practically jumped off the viewer: PREGNANT. I was so excited, and could hardly wait to tell Daniel. His reaction was gold. We were going to be parents.
We both told a handful of people – siblings, close friends – before we told our parents, and they were all as excited as we were. We decided to tell both sets of parents on Father’s Day. This would be Daniel’s parents’ third grandchild, and my parents’ first grandchild.
My dad was stunned, and my mom started crying (tears of joy). Daniel’s dad was surprised, while his mom had a knowing smile on her face, saying she suspected we might be expecting.
We told a few more people after telling our parents – grandparents, coworkers – but were resolved not to make an announcement on social media until the first trimester was over.
My first prenatal appointment was July 1, 2020. On July 1, I was 7 weeks pregnant. Daniel came with me, because there would be an ultrasound, and COVID restrictions allowed one other person in the room with you during ultrasounds – a policy I would be very grateful for later. We saw the heartbeat, pumping away at 135 beats per minute. Everything looked good.
I was having a range of symptoms – heartburn, food aversions, bloating, mood swings, sore breasts, exhaustion – but no morning sickness. I’d feel queasy around certain foods, and my sense of smell was through the roof, but I never vomited. This struck me as odd, but not every woman with a healthy pregnancy experiences morning sickness.
In mid to late July – I cannot reveal the exact date for security reasons – Daniel left on deployment. It was heartbreaking to watch him get on a plane and know that I would not see him again for a long time. I imagine I would have been emotional anyway, but being pregnant meant I just cried the whole day.
A short time later, I recalled that my next prenatal appointment would not be until I was 16 weeks pregnant, and that seemed like a long ways off to me. As a first time mom and chronic overthinker, of course I was worried. So I scheduled a private ultrasound in a nearby town on the day I was 10 weeks pregnant. I wasn’t having any negative symptoms, but I just had this weird feeling that something wasn’t quite right. This appointment would be my first indicator that my pregnancy would not have the desired outcome.
The technician had a puzzled look on her face, and her voice was calm when she told me she couldn’t find a heartbeat. In order to confirm this, though, she recommended I call my doctor and schedule an ultrasound with them. I took the printout (above) and left, shaking.
When I got to my car, I immediately texted my sister and told her what was going on, and asked if she would come with me to the appointment the next day. She agreed, and because I was having an ultrasound, she was allowed at the appointment with me.
I chattered nervously in the waiting room, hoping it was all a mistake. But it wasn’t. The following paragraphs are taken directly from my journal.
Dr. E confirmed that the baby had no heartbeat. She told me that I had a few options: I could wait for baby to pass naturally, which since I had no cramping or bleeding, could take weeks; I could take some pills to help my uterus contract, and I would miscarry in a few days; or she could schedule me for a D&C surgery, where they evacuate my uterus of tissue surgically.
First I called Daniel and told him I was having a miscarriage. Then I told Dr. E that I wanted the D&C. I knew baby was gone, I didn’t want to wait for something to happen, I wanted it over. Personally, I didn’t want to experience the bleeding and cramping and not end up with a living baby.
This morning, I checked into the hospital admissions at 5:30 AM. They took my temperature, and took me to pre-op. I got blood drawn, blood pressure recorded, height and weight recorded, took some antibiotics, and got my IV.
Dr. E did one final ultrasound in the operating room at my request, but there was still no heartbeat. Then the nurse gave me the sleepy drug and I went to sleep.
The surgery took 15 minutes, and I think I woke up around 8:45 AM in recovery, phase one. They gave me a shot in my hip to help slow vaginal bleeding to a sustainable rate. By 10 AM, they wheeled me to Laura’s car, and by 10:30 AM, we were home. Or maybe 11 AM. It’s a little fuzzy.
My parents showed up around 1 PM, and while my dad stayed until 4 PM before going to stay with his dad, my mom stayed the night at my house.
Today, I would have been 10 weeks and 2 days pregnant. I sent a message to Dr. E that if the post-op lab results show the sex, that I want to know, for closure.
It has been an incredibly emotional and trying few days. I’m exhausted and really really sad. But there is a time for grief, and it is now. I feel defeated and empty and anguished. I loved this baby. I made plans for this baby. And now it’s all shattered. My body needs to heal, and so does my heart.
The post-op lab results did not reveal the sex, and while we could have opted for chromosome testing, it would not have been covered under Tricare on a first miscarriage. Biologically, I know that all human embryos are female by default, as they require an external set of male chromosomes to make them male. As such, Daniel and I decided to assume our baby was female, and we named her Julia, after the month in which she died.
I made a memory box, where I stowed the positive pregnancy test, the baby journal, the sonograms, my hospital bracelets, and condolence cards.
Today, October 15, I will light a candle for Julia, and I will weep with the other 25% of mothers whose babies are not here.